Co-pilot Lauren (Larry) Dover wasn't dreaming of his future bride when he and 10 crew members lost the No. 2 engine on their B-29 bomber.
It was December 1944. The 40th Bomb Group had been en route to an early-morning mission targeting a naval installation in Omura, Japan, when the engine died. The "eerie wailing sound" they heard was the revving, runaway prop. Dover tried flying the injured bird with an elevated left wing to keep her airborne. Time was short, and they had a decision to make. It was dark, and they were 12,000 feet above China. The men didn't know who waited below because the Japanese controlled much of the country, yet they had little choice but to bail out.
"When I jumped, I felt like I was in a tornado," Larry said.
He hurtled through the turbulent prop-wash while flying at 160 mph, not knowing which end was up. Then chaos turned to free fall. The first yank on the rip cord yielded nothing. With a second, more vigorous tug — sweet rescue.
"I looked up and saw that beautiful canopy blocking out a circle of stars," he said.
To watch and hear him tell it, the memory hasn't faded over 67 years. Dover landed on his feet in friendly territory, and Chinese allies went out of their way to care for him and the others — all of whom survived.
Larry was the only one of an 11-member crew to salvage his parachute. He hoped he might have another use for it. He'd read of a bride-to-be who fashioned her wedding gown from her fiance's deployed parachute.
"I thought that sounded romantic," Larry said, though he wondered whether he'd some day meet a woman who would agree.
Georgia Ruth Gateley was still in high school as Larry parachuted into China. While Larry was flying B-29s and having his picture taken astride camels in India, she and her friends wrote encouraging letters to the enlisted men.
In the fall four years later, Georgia and Larry met. The setting was the Veterans Administration Hospital in Vancouver, Wash., where they both worked. She was one of the attractive nurses that Larry and his pal, Johnny, happened to notice in the halls. An opportune dance at the officer's club gave Larry the chance to make his move. They danced, and he promised to call following deer-hunting season.
"Oh yeah, sure, you know how that goes," Georgia thought.
But Larry was a man of his word, and he called. They courted for six months, and Georgia agreed that the nylon parachute that bore her man to earth in a worldwide war would bear her down the aisle with class. She arranged for a dressmaker in Portland to make the transformation.
"The seamstress said it was difficult to make over because it was "scruffed up." Georgia figured the rocks and hard landing had left their mark. Larry thought there were issues with the seams. But the same material that floated beautifully above him that black night was more stunning when his bride came down the aisle Dec. 11, 1948.
Sixty-three years and six children later, their union has held strong through chaos and free fall, and the dress has been safely stored away on their ranch in Eagle Point.
Freelance writer Peggy Dover, niece to Georgia and Larry Dover, lives in Eagle Point. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.